The Labor of Launch

image by Ashley Webb
image by Ashley Webb

It’s not uncommon, especially among those of us who are both writers and moms, to compare books and babies. For a while there was even a blog called Book Pregnant. In my experience, having one go-around with each, books and babies are different in a whole lot of ways.

But as I prepare for the arrival of my second baby (likely later this month) and my second book (a decent interval afterward, thank goodness) I’m reminded of some similarities between the baby part of life — the labor — and the book part of life — the launch.

You can never really be ready for either, in my experience. But if you’re looking to launch a book into the world, you could do worse than to take a few lessons from labor.

To wit:

Find the line between education and obsession, and stay safely on this side. Labor stories and launch stories can both turn into horror stories. And there are plenty (thousands! tens of thousands! and then some!) of people, especially on the internet, who are happy to tell you their stories in stunning/gory/boring/excr-uc-ia-ting detail. In the book launch realm, it makes a lot of sense to research what your options are for all the different things you could do during the launch period for your book, but you will never, ever be able to do all of them. So don’t go alllll the way down the rabbit hole. When you reach the end of the internet it’s likely you will have read an equal number of people avowing that something was the worst decision they ever made — or the best. Gather information and then use your own judgment; that’s really all you can do.

Choose your team wisely. Especially if it’s your first time, you’re going to need some people on your side who’ve been there before. A combination of amateurs and professionals is usually best, since they’ll provide different types of support. In labor, who do you want with you? A doctor or a midwife? Your whole family or not a one of them? A doula, maybe? That’s up to you, but decide well in advance. For your launch, do you want a paid publicist? Do you have author friends you can draw on for moral support, lessons learned, the wisdom of experience? It’s amazing what a difference other people make during the launch process. You shouldn’t have to go it alone. You’re much better off if you don’t try.

Plan what you can, and let go of the rest. Some women have 38-page labor plans. “Plan?” Ha. Labor, much more than launch, does not conform to plans. But on the other hand — there’s solid wisdom to the idea that you should spend a lot of time on your labor plan and then throw it out. Because while you can’t plan when a baby will come, you can figure out what the crucial decisions are, and think about how you will address them in advance. And launch is the same way. Maybe your book takes off hugely in the first few weeks; maybe it tanks and there’s nothing but radio silence. You can’t make publicity happen. You can’t make people buy your book. But you can plan out what you think the best course of action is, and then think about other actions you can and/or will take if things don’t exactly go according to plan.

Because if there’s anything books and babies do have in common, it’s that you can’t fully control them once they’re out in the world.

Which is one of the most amazing and terrifying things about them both.

What do you think?


About Jael McHenry

Jael McHenry is the debut author of The Kitchen Daughter (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, April 12, 2011). Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. You can read more about Jael and her book at or follow her on Twitter at @jaelmchenry.


  1. says

    This is lovely, Jael. Pregnancy, birthing, bonding, etc. you nailed it in terms of reflecting the act of growing, birthing and developing a story and letting it go out into the world. I find finishing the writing of my stories to be traumatic too. Sending them out in the world is very much like that first day you drop off you child at nursery school or kindergarten or even the college dorm. There’s always tears when you get back in the car and drive home with that empty seat next to you.

  2. says

    “Because if there’s anything books and babies do have in common, it’s that you can’t fully control them once they’re out in the world.”

    Jael, I love this. Do you think we could extend this analogy to parenting? My mother used to tell me she wished I came with a manual. Instead, she had to improvise.

    You make a good point about finding the balance too, another excellent application of your analogy. Overprotective mother = controlling obsessive author whose stress rubs off on fans. Relaxed, trusting mother (with a watchful eye) who’s always on the lookout for ways she can be a part of her kid’s life without overshadowing = successful author whose cool charm compels.

    I imagine you want to keep checking the reviews, keep checking sales stats, or your fret about low turnouts at events or feel like you’re not doing enough. But I suppose if you have the right team, one of professionals, as you advise, then you need only trust the process. It works however it works, and you learn from it.

    Good advice, filed away in my little box of must-remembers.

  3. says

    Great metaphor, Jael, and very apt.

    To build on that from a male perspective, don’t assume you can take the old-school approach of sitting out in the waiting room while the mother does all the work. Male or female, you need to be there in the room, sweating and panting and taking in the whole glorious/terrifying experience!

    Whether conventionally published or self-published, writers need to stay involved and aware through ALL phases of the delivery – and the subsequent upbringing – of their literary babies. :)

  4. says

    This is so timely. My second grandchild is due in four days, and I and four chapters away from completing a revision. Tick Tock. My daughter and I laugh about the synchronicity, but I have thought about the similarities a great deal.
    Al the best with book and baby, and thank you for a great post.

  5. says

    Ha! This made me laugh. One of the good differences is that people don’t offer you random advice about books (mostly. There will always be that person…).

    Good advice all!

  6. says

    How serendipitous that this post came out today. Yesterday I posted on Facebook about how launching a book was like waiting to go into labor. My newest book comes out tomorrow. :)

    Good luck with your real and book babies, Jael. You just have to trust that everything will work out in the best possible way, even if you don’t exactly feel in control. At least that’s what I keep telling myself today, LOL!

  7. says

    Such wise advice, Jael, and congrats on the upcoming bundle.

    I did obstetrical care in my practice and performed deliveries. It seemed the best outcomes occurred when the prospective parents had educated themselves on options, sketched out their ideal, then were confident and fluid in response to reality. The second best group were the uneducated, young moms, believe it or not, perhaps because they knew it was going to be tough but were prepared to adapt. (Amazingly, this group required minimal analgesia.) The people who had the worst outcomes? The uber-educated parents who treated their birth plans as dogma, and who expected they could will their health outcomes into being. Inevitably, they ended up with the complicated c-sections and fetal distress, the accompanying feelings of failure even as they held their new babe in their arms. It reminded me of the brides who tie their self-esteem into their wedding and forget to enjoy the day.

  8. says

    More food for thought. My book is being launched in October. It’s basically ready now, but I have researched when it’s best to put your book on the market, and it seems the wise folks in the publishing industry like spring and fall the best. So, though I’m self-publishing, I’m paying attention to any tips I can get.

    As well, I’ve been to some book launches at public libraries and wonder whether it’s worth all the effort. Mind you, the ones I’ve attended have been in small towns, and only family and friends have come out. The books were traditionally published but it was still a challenge for these wonderful authors to attract an audience.

  9. says

    “Because if there’s anything books and babies do have in common, it’s that you can’t fully control them once they’re out in the world.

    Which is one of the most amazing and terrifying things about them both.”

    And this is what made me want to hide under my bed a week before my first book came out. ;)

  10. says

    I’m a new writer, just embarking on my first novel (you can follow my journey on my blog: so I haven’t ‘birthed’ a book yet.

    But I was wondering how people recover from launching a book into the silent abyss? When it goes out there and doesn’t even cause a ripple? I think I’d prefer to have some bad reviews and harsh critics to not getting any reaction at all.

    Once launched is it too late to hire a publicist?